Natural ways to boost sperm quality

My husband and I have been trying to conceive for over a year, and we’ve just found out he has low sperm motility, with no obvious cause. Are there any effective supplements he could take or anything else he could do to improve it?

T.L., via email

Sperm-related problems account for some 20 to 30 percent of infertility cases worldwide.1 Sperm motility refers to its ability to move efficiently—vital for it to travel through a woman’s reproductive tract and reach and fertilize an egg. Sperm count or density (number of sperm), morphology (size and shape) and viscosity (consistency) are other important aspects of sperm quality for fertility, and terms you’ve probably seen on your husband’s semen analysis report. 

A huge variety of nutritional and lifestyle factors can affect sperm quality, so there’s lots he can do to try to improve it. But female issues could potentially be playing a role too, so it’s important to take a holistic view. 

The best option would be for you and your husband to visit a naturopathic practitioner specializing in infertility, who can assess both of you in terms of your diet, lifestyle and medical history and recommend an individualized preconception plan. 

British charity Foresight developed a comprehensive natural preconception plan with an impressive success rate that starts with hair mineral analysis. You send off a sample of your hair to test for mineral and heavy metal content, and you get a diet and supplement plan based on your results. Sadly, the charity no longer exists, but there are several practitioners in the UK trained in Foresight’s approach, some of whom offer online consultations (see below). 

But if you want to know what’s worked in scientific studies to improve sperm motility, and the dos and don’ts for healthy sperm, here’s a handy guide you can pass to your husband.

 

Foresight-trained practitioners

Kathleen Boyd: www.birds-and-bees.co.uk

Eli Sarre: www.wildfare.co.uk

See www.foresight-preconception.org.uk for a full list

 

Try supplements

Coenzyme q10. Low levels of this antioxidant and energy-promoting nutrient have been found in infertile men,2 and taking CoQ10 supplements has been found to improve several aspects of sperm quality including concentration, morphology, density and motility.3

Suggested dosage: 100 mg ubiquinol three times/day

 

Zinc. A lack of zinc has been linked to male infertility, and research suggests supplements can help.4 In one study of men with poor sperm motility, those taking zinc supplements saw a significant improvement in progressive motility (sperm swimming in a mostly straight line or in very large circles) as well as sperm count and fertilizing capacity.5

Suggested dosage: 60 mg/day plus 2 mg copper

 

Selenium. Supplementing with this mineral improves sperm motility and the chances of successful conception, according to one study of men with reduced motility.6

Suggested dosage: 100 mcg/day

 

Arginine. Essential for normal sperm development,7 this amino acid appears to be beneficial for sperm motility.8

Suggested dosage: 4 g/day

 

L-carnitine and L-acetylcarnitine. These micronutrients used either individually or together can significantly improve sperm motility.9

Suggested dosage: 3 g/day

 

Get help from herbs

Ginseng. Korean red ginseng, also known as Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer, has been found to boost sperm motility as well as sperm count and morphology.10

Suggested dosage: 4 g/day

 

Maca. Lepidium meyenii, or maca, can improve several aspects of sperm quality, including motility, in both healthy and infertile men.11

Suggested dosage: 1,500–3,000 mg/day

 

Follow a Mediterranean diet

Men who closely stick to a Mediterranean diet, which focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, herbs, spices and healthy fats like olive oil, are less likely to have abnormal sperm, according to one study. Those who scored the lowest on their adherence to a Mediterranean diet were two and a half times more likely to have poor sperm concentration, count and motility compared to those who scored the highest.12 But choose organic produce whenever possible. Another study found that higher intake of fruits and vegetables with high amounts of pesticides is associated with poorer sperm quality.13

 

Cut out the chemicals

A vast range of environmental contaminants we come into contact with daily can have a detrimental impact on sperm motility and other measures of sperm quality, including pesticides, phthalates, bisphenol A and heavy metals.1 Here are a few ways to minimize your exposures, but see the “Healthy Home” guides in WDDTY’s January 2019 to January 2020 issues for more detailed information.

Eat organic produce whenever you can. If you’re on a budget, check out the ‘dirty dozen’ lists published by the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) in the US and the Pesticide Action Network in the UK (www.pan-uk.org) for the top 12 fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides. If you eat these, make sure they’re organic.

Get a water filter. The ZeroWater jug filter is capable of removing virtually all dissolved solids from tap water, including heavy metals.

Opt for natural, nontoxic cleaning products, cosmetics and toiletries. Sites like www.lovelula.com, www.naturisimo.com, www.biggreensmile.com, www.vitacost.com and www.thrivemarket.com are good places to look.

Choose glass over plastic for food storage. If you buy food and drinks in plastic packaging, transfer it to a plastic-free container when you get home.

Avoid aluminum and Teflon cookware, and use parchment paper rather than aluminum foil.

Opt for fresh, whole foods as much as possible over processed and canned foods, and homemade meals rather than takeaways. They’re less likely to be contaminated with chemicals from packaging, storage or preparation.

 

Ditch the drugs

Certain medications, such as aspirin, acetaminophen (paracetamol) and proton pump inhibitors can affect sperm motility,1 so try to find an alternative whenever possible. Recreational drugs, including marijuana, can also affect motility.

 

Look at your lifestyle

There are lots of simple lifestyle changes you can make to improve the quality of your sperm.

Avoid alcohol. Drinking is known to reduce sperm motility; giving it up reverses the effect.14

Stop smoking. Even moderate cigarette smoking can have a significant effect on sperm motility.1

Get off your bike. While some forms of exercise can be good for sperm, provided it’s not too intensive,15 cycling, even for just an hour and a half a week, may have a detrimental effect.16

Keep cool. Anything that heats the testicles can damage sperm,17 so avoid hot baths, saunas, hot tubs, tight underwear and putting your laptop directly on your lap.

Minimize mobile phone use. The more you use your mobile, the more you harm your sperm.18 At the very least, don’t carry your phone in your pocket.19

Watch out for Wi-Fi. Wireless internet is another form of electromagnetic radiation that can be harmful to sperm, especially sperm motility.20 See WDDTY’s February 2020 issue for a step-by-step guide to reducing your risk.

Ease stress. Life stress can have a negative effect on sperm motility and other aspects of sperm quality.21 Try incorporating mind-body techniques like meditation, yoga and tai chi into your everyday routine to help
reduce stress.

Sleep well. Poor sleep has been linked to poor sperm quality. Aim to go to bed by 10:30 at the latest and get around eight hours a night to keep sperm healthy.22

Watch your weight. Obesity can can have a negative impact on sperm quality. 23

 

References

1 

Reprod Sci, 2020 Dec 7: 1–19

2 

Clin Exp Reprod Med, 2019; 46: 112–8

3 

J Clin Diagn Res, 2015; 9: BC01–3; J Urol, 2012;188: 526–31; J Assist Reprod Genet, 2013; 30: 1147–56

4 

Sci Rep, 2016; 6: 22386

5 

Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol, 1998; 79: 179–84

6 

Br J Urol, 1998; 82: 76–80

7 

Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2019; 2019: CD007411

8 

Minerva Urol Nefrol, 1994; 46: 251–3; Ginecol Obstet Mex, 2003; 71: 297–303

9 

Andrologia, 1994; 26: 155–9; Acta Eur Fertil, 1992; 23: 221–4; Andrologia, 2019l; 51: e13267

10

Chin J Integr Med, 2016; 22: 490–5; Minerva Urol Nefrol, 1994; 46: 251–3

11 

Maturitas, 2016; 92: 64–9

12

Hum Reprod, 2017; 32: 215–22

13

Hum Reprod, 2015; 30: 1342–51

14

Reprod Biomed Online, 2010; 20: 324–7

15

Am J Mens Health, 2017; 11: 654–62

16

Hum Reprod, 2014; 29: 2575–82

17

Andrologia, 2007; 39: 203–15

18

Fertil Steril, 2008; 89: 124–8

19

Asian J Androl, 2015; 17: 433–4

20

Kaohsiung J Med Sci, 2015; 31: 480–4

21

Fertil Steril, 2014; 102: 530–8

22

Basic Clin Androl, 2020; 30: 5

23

PLoS One, 2019; 14: e0211837